How to travel to New York City on a budget. Whether you’re planning a girls weekend or a family trip to NYC, follow these tips on where to stay, shop, and eat in New York on the cheap.
I’ve met people that told me they want to visit New York City, but haven’t gone because they think it’s too expensive. That’s a shame because New York City is one of the best cities in the world and it can be affordable on even a tight budget.
Yes, that’s right! Even when I was a broke student, I found plenty of ways to do New York on the cheap.
So whether you’re planning a family trip to New York City on a budget or want to go shopping in New York with your friends, this post can help you get the most bang for your buck!
Here are my favorite ways to visit New York on a dime!
- Visiting NYC for the first-time: 10 tourist mistakes to avoid making
- New York CityPASS vs. New York Pass – Which is better?
- My honest New York pass review – is it worth it?
Table of Contents
1. Save money with the New York Pass
New York is a big city and there’s lots of fun things to do and see. It can be challenging to plan an itinerary and determine which attractions to spend your money on.
They’re also recommended by Expedia and the New York Pass currently have a TrustScore rating of 4.1/5 on Trust Pilot (23,000+ reviews).
Over 3.5 million travelers have used the pass and 9 out of 10 customers recommend the New York Pass to their friends.
With the New York Pass, you can save time, money, and enjoy stress-free sightseeing. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these reviews.
PRO TIP: Buy the pass online to save time and hassle. Plus, you’ll save extra money off the retail price. To buy the New York Pass, click here to go to the official website.
Here’s what’s included in the New York Pass:
✓ Pick from over 100 NYC attractions
✓ Valid for up to 10 days
✓ Save up to 50% compared to purchasing tickets at each attraction
✓ Visit unlimited amount of NYC attractions each day
The New York Pass is a prepaid sightseeing card that can be used to get FREE fast-track entry to over 100+ attractions, museums, and tours in the city.
Below are some of my favorite attractions included in the New York Pass.
Observation decks in NYC:
- Edge NYC ($43.55 value)
- Empire State Building ($47.91 value)
- Top of the Rock Observatory ($43.55 value)
Museums in NYC:
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum ($28.00 value)
- American Museum of Natural History ($23.00 value)
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) ($25.00 value)
Tours in NYC:
- Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off tour ($59.00 value)
- Statue of Liberty Ferry and Ellis Island Immigration Museum ($24.00 value)
- Best of NYC Cruise by Circle Line ( $44.00 value)
Plus, you can use the New York Pass to get free entry to 100+ other attractions, museums, and tours in the city. Once you’ve bought the New York Pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want.
The more sights you visit, the more money you save! Think of it like an all-inclusive holiday. This is one of the best ways to save money visiting NYC.
How to get your New York Pass:
Step 1: Choose which pass duration you want to buy (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10-day). You can click here to purchase your New York Pass from their official website.
FLASH SALE! Save up to 30% off the New York Pass. Offer ends November 24th! You have 2 years to activate the pass.
Why you should consider buying the pass online:
- When you buy the pass online, you can take advantage of online discounts.
- They offer a 365-day money-back guarantee, so you can get a full refund just in case your plans change.
- You can activate your pass anytime within two years from the date of purchase.
Step 2: Download your mobile pass instantly using the New York Pass app.
If you prefer a physical pass, simply print your pass and guidebook at home. Links and easy-to-follow instructions for both options will be in your confirmation email.
Step 3: You now have FREE access to any of the 100+ top NYC attractions included for the duration of your pass.
How to activate the pass: It will activate once you visit your first attraction and can then be used on consecutive calendar days for the number of days purchased.
You’ll also receive a free guidebook, which is included with your purchase. Use this book to help you easily plan your itinerary.
Read Next: What is the best New York sightseeing pass?
2. Use the New York Metro
What is the cheapest way to get around New York? Ride the local metro. This is the fastest way to get to all the must-see attractions on your itinerary.
When I first visited New York City, I was overwhelmed by the subway system. It looked like a big spider web to me. But once I rode the metro, I quickly learned that it was easy to use.
Grab a MetroCard at one of the MetroCard ticket machines in the airport or at most subway stations.
This is a thin plastic rechargable card that you can use to pay-as-you go on the different types of public transportation in New York City. If you plan on riding the subway in NYC, then you NEED to get a MetroCard.
You can buy:
- a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard. The minimum value is $5.50.
- a 7-Day or 30-Day Unlimited MetroCard
- a 7-Day Express Bus Plus MetroCard
Below are some helpful tips for riding the metro:
- Make sure you enter the correct station
Some stations may only go Uptown or Downtown, while some offer both lines. Read the sign before entering the station and paying your metro fare.
- Be aware of which train stops at which station
Express trains bypass some stations while local trains stop at each station on the line. You can check a map at any metro station for help.
- Download a map of the subway system on your phone
There are also maps posted in each station too if you need assistance.
3. Should you fly, drive or take the train?
There are many ways to get to New York City. Flying is the fastest and most convenient option for many, but sometimes driving or taking the train is more affordable.
Driving to New York
If driving, you won’t need your car to get around NYC. Instead, find a garage to park your car for the duration of your stay. If going with a group, this is the best value because you can divide the cost between everyone.
Flying to New York
When flying, there are three major airports close to Manhattan:
Compare flight prices and select the one with the best price.
Depending on where your accommodation is located, travel times from the airport to your hotel may vary. I always sign-up for email alerts on Skyscanner. This lets me know when it’s the best time to book.
I usually fly into LGA or EWR since it has offers the best price for me. You can take the bus into the city for only a few dollars. This is much more affordable than taking a taxi.
If you’re flying into JFK Airport, which is the closest airport to the city, consider taking a private transfer from the airport to your hotel.
When traveling with a small group, splitting the cost can be affordable and more comfortable than waiting in long lines for a taxi. This is also great for travellers who have a lot of luggage.
PRO TIP: If you take a taxi from the airport to your hotel, be aware of the fares. There are flat rates from the airport to most locations in Manhattan, so don’t let your cab driver overcharge you!
When is the cheapest month to fly to New York?
The cheapest month to fly to New York is in February. This is also when hotel rates are affordable and there are less tourists. Winter is cold in New York, however February can be a great month to visit if you’re dressed appropriately.
When is the best month to visit New York?
The best time of year to visit New York is in the spring (April through June) and fall (November to December). The weather is mild in the spring and there are fewer tourists than the summer months and Christmas season.
4. Compare hotel rates
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, it’s no surprise that New York City hotels can be extremely expensive (starting at $200+ per night).
My number one tip is to start checking hotel prices early and on a daily basis. Checking prices in advance can give you more hotel options and figure out where to stay in New York on a budget.
Best place to stay in New York on a budget:
After visiting New York City several times and staying in different neighborhoods, I recommend staying in one of these 5 areas:
- Midtown – The BEST neighborhood for first-timers
- Times Square – The heart of Manhattan. You can’t beat its location.
- Upper East Side – Ideal for museum lovers and close to Central Park
- Lower East Side & Soho – Ideal for shopping
- Greenwich Village & Chelsea – Lots of great restaurants
- Brooklyn– Ideal for travellers on a budget
Best hotels in New York City for every budget:
If you’re traveling on a budget, these are the best budget hotels in NYC:
- CitizenM New York Times Square
- Hotel Scherman (Midtown)
- Artezen Hotel (Minutes from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum)
If you have some more wiggle room in your budget, below are some of the best mid-range hotels in New York:
- Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East
- Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Penn Station
- AC Hotel by Mariott New York Times Square
If you want to splurge on your accommodations, below are some popular luxury hotels:
AVOID staying at Airbnbs in New York since they are illegal. You’re better off booking a hotel for the ease and comfort of your trip.
Should you stay outside of Manhattan to save money?
No, I don’t recommend staying outside of the city.
I’ve stayed outside of Manhattan (in New Rochelle) before and it was such a hassle to commute to and from the city.
You’re reliant on the train schedule and round-trip tickets from New Rochelle Station to Grand Central were $20+ per person during peak hours ($15+ off-peak).
When traveling with a group, the price of train tickets can add up fast. This may not make the savings on your accommodations worth it.
5. See Broadway shows at a discount
One of the most popular things to do in New York City is to see a show on Broadway. But tickets can be very expensive.
I found the best way to save money on show tickets is to look for deals on Get Your Guide. This website offers lots of discounted tickets to shows, concerts, sports, and more.
For same-day tickets, visit one of the TKTS ticket booths in New York to get discount Broadway tickets. You can save from 20% to 50% off regular prices.
6. Consider visiting during the off-season
New York City is a major domestic and international tourist destination year round.
A visit during the off-season doesn’t really exist; but if you’re looking for less crowds and reduced hotel prices, the best time to go is between January and March.
New York City can get quite cold during the winter months, so keep this in mind if you plan on doing a lot of outdoor activities; summer tends to be hot and humid.
I have found great deals on hotels during both of these times with patience and daily price checking on Booking.com.
When time of year are hotels cheapest in New York?
The cheapest time to visit New York City in the winter months (January through March).
The second best time of year to find cheap hotels in New York is during the summer months (July through August).
The busiest and most expensive time of year to visit New York is during Christmas.
7. Check out free things to do in New York City
While the city can be expensive, there’s lots of things to do in New York on a budget.
I also like searching for discounts Get Your Guide. This website offers discounts on cheap attractions in NYC, sightseeing tours, day trips, Broadway show tickets, and more.
Below are some of my favorite free things to do in New York:
- Walk along the High Line
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset
- See the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
- Have a picnic in Central Park
- Visit Grand Central Terminal
- People watch in Bryant Park
- Visit the New York Public Library
- Explore Times Square
- Check out Coney Island
- Go on free walking tours
- Go inside Trinity Church
Take advantage of free museum days
You can free admission to select New York City museums by visiting on free days, which makes this a great option to save money.
The only down side is free museum days are always busy. This is why I recommend arriving BEFORE the museum opens to avoid long wait times.
Side Note: For New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents ONLY, some museums (such as The Met) offer “pay what you wish” admission. A valid form of ID is required.
Read Next: 7 best free skyline views in Manhattan
8. Skip the New York souvenirs
Manhattan is a shopper’s paradise. From high street to luxury finds, there’s no end to the spending you can do in the city. While many visitors come to New York specifically to shop, I recommend setting a budget for yourself and sticking to it.
Skip the cheesy souvenirs and budget for something important to you. If the locals aren’t wearing “I ‘heart’ NYC” fashion, you probably shouldn’t either.
9. Eat dinner during happy hour
Happy hour is popular in New York City and offered seven days a week at some restaurants.
Happy hour can be found throughout Manhattan and is great for drink and food specials.
It usually starts at around 4:00pm and goes until 8:00pm (or closing). If you’re not sure where to go, you can check for deals online. Most restaurants also advertise with signs outside.
Food specials can include pre-fix menus or up to 50% off appetizers. New York restaurants can be expensive and eating during happy hour can be a great way to save money.
Below are some more tips on how to eat in New York City for cheap:
- For breakfast, stop by a local deli for a quick and delicious breakfast or grab a bagel at one of the many food stands on the street.
- For lunch, have a slice of pizza from Joe’s Pizza or head to one of the popular food trucks. If you’re not sure which one try, just look for one with a long line-up of locals.
- Look for bottomless brunch – Many spots offer a flat price to get unlimited drinks or cocktails with your food. This is only offered on the weekends and can be a good deal if you like to drink at brunch.
- Eat dumplings in Chinatown – This is one of the best deals in town and they are super filling.
- Grab dinner in the Lower East Village – This is a great spot for nightlife, old-school bars, and affordable restaurants.
- Instead of Little Italy, head to Arthur Avenue – New York’s Little Italy is geared towards tourists. Instead, go to Arthur Avenue where you’ll find the best Italian eats in the city.
PRO TIP: For cheap easts, head to Chinatown or the Lower East Side neighborhood.
10. Spend time outdoors
Finally, a great way to stay on a budget when visiting New York City is to spend time outdoors. People watch in Central Park, take a stroll on The High Line or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge are some of my favorite outdoor activities to do in the city.
Another great thing to do is to walk through the different neighborhoods in Manhattan. I love the architecture in Soho and walking through Greenwich Village. Check to see if there are any free events or walking tours happening outdoors when visiting.
During the winter months, walking around the city can be a bit cold so make sure to dress for the weather and stop inside a local cafe to warm up with a hot beverage.
Ready to plan your NYC vacation? See what hotel deals are available in the area thanks to Booking.com
New York City on a Budget FAQs
Below are some common questions about how to visit New York on budget.
How much money do you need per day in New York City?
Your daily budget should be around $239 per person for your vacation. Based on the expenses of other visitors, this is the average daily price. (Price are in USD).
|Average Daily Cost|
As you can see, a vacation to New York for one week will cost an average of $1,676 per person. (Source)
How much money to take to New York for 4 days – Depending on your interests, you’ll want to take around $959 per person for your four day trip to NYC.
How much is a trip to New York for 2? A vacation to New York for one week will cost an average of $3,351 for two people.
What is the cheapest month to visit New York?
The cheapest months to visit New York are January and Februrary. You can also find affordable hotel deals during April to June and September to early November. This is when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.
What is there to do in NYC on a budget?
- Explore Central Park on foot or by bike.
- Walk the High Line.
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
- See the 9/11 Memorial.
- Walk through Times Square at night.
- Walk or bike across the Brookyln Bridge.
- Check out Grand Central Terminal
- Save on the city’s top attractions with the New York Pass.
- Walk the boardwalk at Coney Island in the summer.
- People watch in Washington Square Park.
Can you travel to New York on a budget?
Yes, it’s possible to have an amazing vacation to New York on a budget. Even though New York is an expensive city, there are many easy ways to save money.
Money-saving tips for getting around New York:
- Ride the subway – The subway is the fastest and cheapest way to get around New York City. If you’re spending a week in NYC, your best option is to get the 7-day unlimited pass.
- Walk – New York is a very walkable city. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Riding the metro and walking is the best way for tourists to get around NYC.
- Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour – If you’re planning to purchase the New York Pass, you can get around to all the top sights for free by riding the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.
Money-savings tips for sightseeing in New York:
- Free attractions and events – There are plenty of free things to do in New York. Some museums offer free days for New York residents or tourists.
- Get a New York Sightseeing Pass – If you want to visit all the top attractions for 70% off the regular price, consider getting the New York Pass. This can be a good option for first-time visitors. If you only want to visit a few popular attractions, check out the New York CityPASS or New York Explorer Pass instead.
Money-savings tips for cheap hotels in New York:
- Compare prices – I like to compare hotel prices on Booking.com. This is my go-to site for finding cheap hotel accommodations.
- Last-minute deals – Find last-minute hotel deals on Hotwire. This can be a great site to save up to 60% off hotel rates.
Money-savings tips for cheap eats in New York:
- Eat dinner during happy hour – This can also be a great time to enjoy cheap drinks.
- Check out local street carts – There are lots of local food trucks and street carts available in New York. Enjoy donuts, bagels, hotdogs, tacos, sandwiches and more.
- Eat New York pizza – Try New York style pizza by the slice. This is usually great for a cheap lunch.
- Picnic in the park – Grab food from the local grocery store or NYC deli and have a picnic in Central Park.
- Chinatown – This neighborhood is home to some of the best cheap eats in New York.
How many days in New York is enough?
3-5 days is the perfect amout of time to do New York. If you’re visiting for the first time and plan to check out a lot of attractions, stay 5 days. If you’re just in town to see a Broadway show and a couple of attractions, then 3 days is enough.
Which airport is cheapest to fly into NYC?
New York LaGuardia Airport is the cheapest airport to fly into New York. Although prices will vary based on each traveller.
Is eating out in New York expensive?
Yes, New York is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world for dining. Check the menu before going to make sure that it’s in your budget. For cheaper options, consider street food, ethnic restaurants in Chinatown and Lower East Side, and eating during Happy Hour.